One of the most frustrating parts of parenting is dealing with our children’s negative reactions to food at mealtimes. It’s enough to make any Mom want to either insist they eat, no matter what, or throw in the towel completely.
These tendencies over time can create bad habits that cause stress at the table and negatively impact kids’ vegetable eating habits.
That’s why it’s key for parents to remember that, as with all manners, it’s our job to reinforce the behaviors we want while calmly yet clearly correcting those we don’t. Here are three frustration-free ways to offer vegetables in response to common kids’ complaints.
Common Complaints from Kids: “I don’t like this!”
Even without trying a new food, kids often declare “I don’t like this!” This can quickly narrow down the list of foods a child willingly eats, leaving a lot of healthy foods we prematurely put on an indefinite “don’t like it” list and stop offering.
Frustration-Free Way to Offer #1: Change your language.
If your child says, “I don’t like this,” try switching it up by teaching them to instead say “I am still learning to like this.” Shifting how your family speaks about vegetables helps both child and parent learn to like new foods using more of a process-oriented approach. As with many aspects of parenting, you will have to keep repeating this positive language until it becomes instilled in your children. If your child says they are “still learning to like” a given food, remember that continually exposing and offering the food over time will eventually result in success. It’s important to stay neutral and talk about what other fun ways the child may learn to like the food, such as trying to grow the vegetables themselves, helping to wash, cut, or prepare them for an upcoming meal.
“This is yucky!”
Often times, kids decide something is yucky before they even taste it, just because of its color, shape, texture, or smell. While “neophobia” (or a fear of new foods) is common in young kids, there are ways parents can pique their child’s curiosity about a food without resorting to pressure or bribes.
Frustration-Free Way to Offer #2: Probe instead of pressure.
If your child is unsure about a new food, ask yourself in what ways they still may need to learn more about it before developing a comfort-level to actually consume it. Some probing, pressure-free questions and tactics to pique curiosity may include:
“Does this taste sweet or salty?” (makes them curious to lick it)
“Is this crunchy or soft?” (makes them curious to bite it)
“Can you smoosh it?” (makes them curious to touch it)
“What shapes can you find on your plate?”(makes them curious to examine it)
“What does this smell like?” (makes them curious to smell it)
“This is gross!”
It’s a physiological reality that children can have as many as three times more taste buds than adults. This can cause them to be even more sensitive to the bitter flavor of certain foods, including vegetables. Don’t let this be a reason not to re-expose children to foods they may not like.
Frustration-Free Way to Offer #3: Get kids interested in what you offer.
Try associating the food the child refuses with one he or she has already accepted. If you want to blend some spinach into your pancake batter, ask your kid to give three “Hulk-sized handfuls” to help make “Hulk pancakes.” Let them watch a quick clip on this superhero while the pancakes cook and talk about how spinach gave him his superpowers. The aim is to get kids interested in what is being offered so they are less likely to turn it away when it is on the plate in front of them.
These frustration-free ways to offer vegetables can shift how your kids feel towards vegetables and help your family find fun, new ways to learn to like new foods.
Ashley Smith MPH, RD, LD
Pediatric Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Ashley Smith is a pediatric dietitian and owner of Veggies and Virtue. Ashley is a Mom to two apprehensive eaters. Her mission is to bring families less mealtime stress & more feeding success. Follow her Instagram at @veggiesandvirtue or her blog, veggiesandvirtue.com.